A Call to Arms, Hands and Hearts

By Elaine Stillerman , LMT

A Call to Arms, Hands and Hearts

By Elaine Stillerman , LMT

"There is hardly a people, ancient or modern, that do not in some way resort to massage and expression in labor, even if it be a natural and easy one."1 This statement may have been uttered in 1884, but it is still true today. At the beginning of the next century, physician and anthropologist Ale� Hrdlicka, who witnessed many births throughout North America, reported, "The assistance given is everywhere substantially the same, consisting of pressure or kneading with the hands or with a bandage about the abdomen, the object of which is to give direct aid in the expulsion of the child. The procedure, which is not always gentle, accomplishes very probably the same result as the kneading of the uterine fundus under similar conditions by the white physician, namely, more effective uterine contractions."2

Ritualistic touch and massage have been a part of the childbearing experience for countless generations in many traditional societies, particularly ones in which pregnancy is respected, labor is dignified and the new mother is revered.3 This month, Midwifery Today is presenting a unique conference outside of Philadelphia that brings nurturing massage techniques to the knowing hands of midwives and doulas. And massage practitioners are invited to learn techniques from the leading international midwives; techniques they can use in their prenatal, labor support, and postpartum practices.

As long as midwives have attended laboring women, touch and physical support have been a part of their skills and tools. Breech presentations were manually turned and labor was facilitated by the knowing hands of these very wise women. Different cultures may have different techniques, but the end results are the same: a dignified and wonderful birth. From ancient times until the 18th century, massage was employed during labor by midwives who were almost universally poor, uneducated but highly skilled women. Their practice included abdominal massage, leg and back massage and massage to correct breech.4

By the 1900s, doctors attended nearly half of total U.S. births and just about all births involving women who could afford to pay. Midwives assisted the poor who could not pay the doctors' fees.5 By 1950, nearly 88 percent of all women in America gave birth at hospitals.5

A renaissance of midwifery, the advent of feminism and a reclaiming of their birthright prompted women to return to midwifery care for their obstetrical needs in the 1970s. In 1980, a new movement reintroduced the noble tradition of prenatal massage to massage practitioners, childbirth educators, doulas and the obstetric community.6 As scientific studies continue to validate the beneficial effects of prenatal massage, pregnant women, as well as the once-reticent medical establishment, are embracing massage as an integral part of their prenatal and postpartum care.3

The Philadelphia conference breaks new ground as these two time-honored traditions merge. Ancient and new techniques from around the world will be offered to better serve birthing women. From massage comes loving, healing touch that can gracefully help women in pregnancy, birth and postpartum. From midwifery comes knowledge of physiology and emotional well-being. Mexican midwives will offer many exceptional massage and midwifery techniques.

According to Jan Tritten, the founder of Midwifery Today and a midwife since 1977, "As we know, there is no higher calling than helping mother/baby to have the best experience possible. We believe that tapping into the expertise of these two bodies of knowledge will help you assist birthing women even more magnificently."7

Please join us for this unique, groundbreaking conference. For more information, visit www.midwiferytoday.com.


  1. Englemann GJ. Labor Among Primitive Peoples. St. Louis: JH Chambers, 1884.
  2. Hrdlicka A. Physiological and Medical Observations Among the Indians of Southwestern United States and Northern Mexico. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institute Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 34, 1908.
  3. Stillerman E. Prenatal Massage: A Textbook of Pregnancy, Labor, and Postpartum Bodywork. St. Louis: Mosby, 2008.
  4. Calvert R. The History of Massage: An Illustrated Survey From Around the World. Rochester Vt:, Healing Arts Press, 2002.
  5. Feldhusen AE. The history of midwifery and childbirth in America: a time line. Midwifery Today, 2000;53.
  6. Stillerman E. MotherMassage: A Handbook for Relieving the Discomforts of Pregnancy. New York: Dell, 1992.
  7. Tritten J. The healing touch of midwifery & birth catalogue. Midwifery Today, 2007.